Book Review: Welcome to the New World by Jake Halpern (Illustrated by Michael Sloan)

Welcome to the New World

Author: Jake Halpern

Illustrated by: Michael Sloan

Publication Date: 22 September 2020

Genre: Graphic Novel (YA)

Pages: 176

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co

Now in a full-length book, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic story of a refugee family who fled the civil war in Syria to make a new life in America

After escaping a Syrian prison, Ibrahim Aldabaan and his family fled the country to seek protection in America. Among the few refugees to receive visas, they finally landed in JFK airport on November 8, 2016, Election Day. The family had reached a safe harbor, but woke up to the world of Donald Trump and a Muslim ban that would sever them from the grandmother, brothers, sisters, and cousins stranded in exile in Jordan.

Welcome to the New World tells the Aldabaans’ story. Resettled in Connecticut with little English, few friends, and even less money, the family of seven strive to create something like home. As a blur of language classes, job-training programs, and the fearsome first days of high school (with hijab) give way to normalcy, the Aldabaans are lulled into a sense of security. A white van cruising slowly past the house prompts some unease, which erupts into full terror when the family receives a death threat and is forced to flee and start all over yet again. The America in which the Aldabaans must make their way is by turns kind and ignorant, generous and cruel, uplifting and heartbreaking.

Delivered with warmth and intimacy, Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan’s Welcome to the New World is a wholly original view of the immigrant experience, revealing not only the trials and successes of one family but showing the spirit of a town and a country, for good and bad.

These are the type of stories that I hate having to rate because this is a true story based off of surviving Trump’s US as refugees from Syria.

It infuriates me to no end that the United States has been sold as this all inclusive resort package that accepts people from all creeds. That is an absolute lie and is exactly what plays out in this poignant graphic novel. There’s a scene where the son Naji has these grandiose dreams of what it must be like to be a child raised in the US where you’re surrounded by lavishness and not leaving in an actual war zone. However, when Naji arrives in the US, how he is treated and what he experiences makes his miss Syria even more despite the constant turmoil he was subjected to. This resonated with me as a reader because it is ludicrous that the bigotry and xenophobia in this country makes refugees miss literal war zones.

There are a lot of heartbreaking scenes in this book. The sacrifices that each of the family members must make in order to pursue a better life will tear at your insides. But even though there’s so many roadblocks in front of the Aldabaans, they refuse to give up on each other and doing whatever it takes to build a better future. Their hope and dreams were infectious.

Thank you to Henry Holt & Co. for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

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